Grey Lee – Social Enterprise MLD 836 – 9/17/17
This assignment is looking at the solution, even though I am currently investigating my problem statement as a priority, and trying to avoid focusing on my “solution.” I don’t want to build out something that doesn’t have a strong enough problem, which might fail on the marketplace. On the other hand, I have been thinking about this for some time now and do believe there is a real market for this offering. Fine-tuning it to find funding is the next big question, in my mind.
There are two paths: 1) a traditional multifamily developer/financier sees the value and the market and we build it out, or 2) a philanthropic entity supports it. The one would require stronger financial return from essentially the residents, shifting this away from my original concept of subsidized housing for sobenes (social benefit professionals). The second would enable the project to avail itself of patient capital, contributed real estate, philanthropy or a social impact bond structure and provide the subsidization.
Meanwhile, the assignment has some good market testing questions.
- What are 5-7 unique attributes of your solution that your beneficiaries value?
The beneficiaries are the people who will live in the lodges.
- Reduced housing expenditure (target of 50% local average / or totally free like a fellowship award)[obviously needs to be determined and specified]
- Filtered/Selective mix of peer residents
- Structured para-professional support: workshops, mentors, networking
- Facilitated social quality-of-life dynamic: seamless IT, organized meals, outings, interactions, amenities like sporting equipment, workshop,
- Simplified/reduced-friction group living: cleaning service, meals, streamlined administrative requirements
- Mission-orientation and pride of purpose for being a collaborating resident: you are not simply living there, paying rent, and passing through. Residents become alumni of a place they strongly care about.
- How does your closest 2-3 “competitors” or “alternatives” compare to you?
Fundamentally, the alternative to what I’m envisioning is simply cheap housing anywhere, which is the default for people who are earning at the levels that social benefit employers tend to pay. Many in these roles choose to live in groups – 2-3 housemates – in order to reduce total costs. Often, these group arrangements are spontaneous and messy, and could benefit from more structure. I believe there is a fine line between “fun and easygoing” community and “stable and supportive” institutional style housing. It can be modeled, fine-tuned, and monitored.
There are few specific comparisons which have emerged over time for this type of housing under the auspices of some mission-orientation that provide their own designated housing. My concept is rather a pan-organization concept. Somewhat like a private dorm/multi-resident facility in an academic town (like London House in London) which hosts students from multiple colleges or institutions. In this case, it is hosting residents working for a variety of agencies/non-profits.
Entities which provide housing for people doing social benefit work include:
- Catholic Worker Houses (such as Haley House in Boston), which provide housing to a small number of resident staff, but also a larger number of units for low-income residents (who do not work for the organization and their residence is not related to their professional engagement).
- The Beacon Hill Friends House is a communal housing arrangement with a slight institutional feel where over 20 people share space, 5-nights-a-week meals, and activities. While generally ascribing to Quaker principles, residents are not expected to work in social benefit arenas.
- Various schools and museums provide housing for their teachers or caretakers, and notably summer camps seasonally house their workers.
On the other hand, there are a number of new entities which are building out group living settings known as co-living, similar to the office setting known as co-working. Co-living assumes a willingness to live in a single room attached to communal resources like living rooms and kitchens, with a varying level of service provision. In a sense, it is enhanced multi-housemate living. Most are targeting tech industry workers who are new to an area and want to rapidly integrate socially to the location. These are often priced at near luxury levels in their market (not quite suitable for most social benefit professionals).
- Startup Mansion
There are some entities that focus on serving the needs of nomadic workers (those who are coding, writing or otherwise can work on projects remotely via the internet) with nodes throughout the world. Some of these are more like hostels or a “Club Med” where you can live in one for a month, then on to another, for a change of pace. Due to their locations in emerging market economies, they are often priced “reasonably” compared to something in Boston or San Francisco, but still, not trying to give anyone a break!
- Nomad House
- Terminal 3
My concept of blends aspects of these but primarily seeks to connect people doing good work and subsidize their housing through some kind of underwriting.
- How sustainable is this over time–are there ways to design your offering to build lasting value? Can you be a thought leader in your space? How can your beneficiaries, partners, volunteers help you build value and distinction over time?
The intention is to be sustainable. People will always need places to live, and social benefit work will always call to people. We can find the balance between creating a good product – the housing – and matching the cost to provide to the ability of the residents to contribute. One major dimension will the the screening/selection process, to figure out what really is “social benefit work” and who “qualifies” for that.
Ultimately, I envision the entities becoming self-perpetuating. As the real estate acquisition or build-out costs are amortized over time, and operational costs stabilize, each node may be able to throw off cash for the expansion of the network.
I can be a thought leader for the concept, in fact, that is a major requirement for me to be able to lead an organization in this particular space. I need to start writing about this, critiquing my competition, and connecting future partners and collaborators.
Because this entity is mission-based, and seeks to create a response and support structure for other mission-based organizations employees’ housing needs, we will have the goodwill of these partners. Residents themselves will resonate with the larger purpose of their “landlord” and will potentially be more committed to its long-term success. They will be encouraged to provide volunteer service in facilitating social norms and group activities in the lodges. Some may take on governance roles, and alumni may serve on boards or advisory bodies. I know that the idea is not unique and many competitors may emerge – I hope that happens. I hope more people are able to benefit from group living, more agencies and employers can engage and sustain their employees passions to serve for longer, and more communities benefit from having these types of nodes in their midsts. In a sense, we want to build a larger segment of any given population devoted to social purpose.